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DR of Congo: UN-backed mission to assess refugee site hit by rebel clashes

DR of Congo: UN-backed mission to assess refugee site hit by rebel clashes

Concerned at the plight of Sudanese refugees in the troubled northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations refugee agency today announced that its partner in the region would send an assessment mission to the conflict area.

Delphine Marie, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva that the Diocèse de Mahagi would dispatch a team to the village of Biringi, where some of the 17,000 Sudanese refugees who fled last week’s fighting between rival rebel groups are now beginning to trickle back. Working on UNHCR’s behalf, the team will evaluate possible casualties among the local and refugee populations.

UNHCR’s own staff based in Aru, 80 kilometres east of Biringi near the border with Uganda, have not been able to travel to the refugee sites because of security concerns. “Although there is no fighting along the Aru-Biringi main road, heavy military presence is reported and the roads are still unsafe,” Ms. Marie said.

While the fighting has apparently moved to the west of Biringi, UNHCR remains concerned about the overall security situation in the northeast, where there are some 75,000 Sudanese refugees.

Clashes between rebels of the Congolese Patriotic Union/Popular Rally (UPC-RP) and ethnic Lendu militias first started in Biringi over a week ago. The refugee settlement was “overrun by the UPC-RP rebels who caused panic and drove more than 14,500 refugees in Biringi, along with locals, into the bush,” the spokeswoman reported.

Last Thursday, further fighting between the two groups shifted the conflict to the nearby refugee settlement of Ayamba, on the outskirts of Biringi, causing another 2,500 Sudanese refugees and staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with UNHCR to flee as Lendu militias looted the settlement, the agency said.